Thorn in the Flesh

I have been contemplating the thorn in Paul's flesh and have heard different possibilities as to what it was, but this past week God gave me something else to look at.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10, "7And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

8For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."


I found that God spoke these words through Ezekiel in 28:24, "24And there shall be no more a pricking brier unto the house of Israel, nor any grieving thorn of all that are round about them, that despised them; and they shall know that I am the Lord GOD."

In 1 Corinthians he speaks of the messenger of Satan sent to buffet him. Satan smote Job as well in Job 2:7, "So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown."

Many wonder what exactly is that thorn? Is it a physical thorn of some kind of illness like Job or is it spiritual like the house of Israel?

In Ezekiel he speaks of two thorns, a prickling brier(thorn) and a grieving thorn. it also says the people despised them. A prickling thorn is physical and a grieving thorn can be considered mental. We know that while Job suffered physically, we also know that he suffered mentally. He battled hearing negative thoughts from others, even his wife told him to curse God and die.

Paul asked the Lord thrice, to remove this thorn. I am perplexed at why God chose to show significance in how many times Paul asked, thrice. Jesus also asked God thrice, if this cup should pass from Him.

Matthew 26:44, "And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words....". In regard to Matthew 26:39 and 42, "And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." "42He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done."

I believe the significance is this, the Lord asked three times and God did not let the cup pass from Him. He knew the death of His Son had a purpose and God shows us that Paul's thorn had a purpose too.

2 Corinthians 12:7a, "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations," The purpose was to keep Paul humble so he wouldn't become prideful in the abundance of revelations that God was giving him. For through this thorn God showed His perfect strength during Paul's weakness, so that God's power could rest upon him. 12:9, "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

So just what was that thorn? What was causing him either physical pain or mental anguish?
12:10, " Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

Infirmities is a sickness or weakness physically.
Reproaches is mental injury and wantonness of its infliction being prominent.
Necessities is either 1.necessity, imposed either by the circumstances, or by law of duty regarding to one's advantage, custom, argument or 2. calamity, distress, straits.
Persecutions is the condition of being harassed or annoyed
Distresses is 1.narrowness of place, a narrow place or 2. metaph. dire calamity, extreme affliction.

We know that Paul did indeed suffer persecution, I believe he suffered that on both sides of the battle raging in his time. Just think, Paul was one of the best scribes, a Pharisee, he lived the Law to the letter, probably just below being perfect. He was well known for being a prominent Jew. Once he trusted Christ he immediately became a traitor in a sense, because he left living by The Law and began living in the Spirit. He walked in the Spirit, in Christ.

Paul still followed the Law as far as living a life that is godly, but he was now preaching Christ! Imagine the Christians now, knowing he was Saul who persecuted Christians! He was most certainly not likely to be accepted into any Christians home for they may have feared he was deceiving them in order to kill them or arrest them. No matter where he went, whether to the homes of believers or to the Jewish synagogues, people knew who he was. He was known as a traitor to the 'faith' and a murderer of believers.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be persecuted? Stoned and whipped? Beat up? It's exhausting to say the least. Have you suffered social persecution to where NONE of your friends or fellow believers will even talk to you anymore? Have you been so outcast that people assume and believe lies about you that no matter how much you try to clarify for them, they don't believe you? This must have been what it was like for Paul.

We know that the enemy stands to accuse the brethren DAILY, so what could he have against Paul? He can accuse him and torment him daily that he murdered and wrongfully imprisoned believers. He could accuse him of 'leaving the faith'. What a confusing place to be. During all those years Paul asked only three times for God to remove this thorn, this messenger of Satan that buffeted him. I believe that Paul was calling the messenger of Satan the thorn and his buffeting was in the flesh, therefore I believe it was both. I believe Paul was speaking of the physical persecutions as well as the mental persecutions of both Satan, the accuser, and the people who didn't trust him.

How could he possible get away from both reputations that surrounded his life? I believe God allowed this to continue to both keep him humble and weak, because in his weakness God made his strength perfect in him and His power rested upon Him. I have no doubt Paul fasted often, I know I would if I had to live among his time and suffer as he did. Paul said "..therefore I take pleasure in..." those things.

I believe that God left this passage of the thorn somewhat of a mystery on purpose. It gives the Holy Spirit ample room to speak to an individual about whatever their thorn is, with the same result; that we may be humble and weak, so his revelations can be abundant, his strength can be made perfect, and so His power may also rest upon us.

Sisterlisa is a homeschooling mom of four children and married to a ministry leader of a Rescue mission. She is the owner of Growing in Grace Magazine and AGMinistries.

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{ Amanda Read } at: July 27, 2009 at 5:45 PM said...

Ah, that's right! I hadn't thought of the connection between Jesus's request and Paul's request, but that does help explain it. Very interesting study.

I did a study on Job with the curriculum, "World Views of the Western World" years ago, and read the book "Affliction" by Edith Schaeffer, which is also good commentary on this topic.

~Amanda~

{ Sisterlisa } at: July 27, 2009 at 6:15 PM said...

Thanks for commenting Amanda. I have read the book of Job before but not an in depth study. Not yet anyway, but I will. I have been studying several different things this summer and am loving it more each day. :O)

{ Teri Lynne } at: September 14, 2009 at 4:01 AM said...

Great thoughts ... I have often thought that there is an intentional ambiguity in many passages of Scripture so that we will not get bogged down in the details and instead be forced to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit.

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